- What is the Southern Forests Irrigation Scheme (SFIS)?
The Southern Forests Irrigation Scheme is a game-changing plan to deliver a reliable source of water to farmers in the Manjimup-Pemberton area.
The proposed scheme involves the construction of a 15GL dam located on Record Brook and a 250km pipeline distribution network to supply water to farmers.
- What is the Southern Forest Irrigation Co-operative?
The SF Irrigation Cooperative (SFIC) was formed in 2017 to operate and manage the business and operations of providing water to farms within the Manjimup – Pemberton region as part of the State Government’s Southern Forests Irrigation Scheme.
There are currently five directors on the board of the Co-operative. All are proudly local people with a link to the region going back two or three generations.
There are 72 members of the Co-operative, each of whom have paid an initial two per cent deposit to join the scheme. These members are local farmers.
- Why is the scheme needed?
Due to the effects of climate change, water availability in the south west is limited.
As a result, the state and federal governments and the community need to look to new, innovative ways to safeguard agriculture in the Manjimup–Pemberton region.
Climate change modelling from the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER) has confirmed rainfall is declining.
The report Selection of future climate change projections for Western Australia states: “The message in the South-West is clear. All models and the selected scenarios show decreases in rainfall and increases in temperature… South-West WA is widely reported as a region of the globe particularly sensitive to climate change.”
The SFIS will future-proof horticultural water supplies for the Manjimup-Pemberton region, enabling it to reach its full potential as a supplier of quality fruit and vegetables to lucrative domestic and international markets.
The scheme offers the opportunity to supply water in a model that fits with the National Water Initiative and will stimulate economic investment.
The SFIS was originally developed under the previous State Government’s Water for Food program.
The scheme’s management moved to the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) under the Labor government and the cooperative was established in June 2017 to work alongside DPIRD in developing the scheme.
- What does the scheme actually involve?
The proposed scheme involves the construction of a 15GL dam located on Record Brook and a 250km pipeline distribution network that will supply water to farmers.
It will draw water from the Record Brook catchment and the forested areas of the Upper and Middle Donnelly catchments.
- Why is the scheme so important?
The Southern Forest Irrigation Scheme will drought-proof this significant horticultural region by creating a reliable and high-quality irrigation scheme.
The scheme will secure horticultural water supplies for Manjimup-Pemberton growers, enabling the region to reach its full potential as a supplier of quality fruit and vegetables to lucrative domestic and international markets.
A dam will have other benefits for the region too, including job creation and improved long-term economic stability for farmers. It will also create potential social opportunities for people in the region through the creation of a public space that could be used for camping and water sports.
- Who supports the scheme?
There is strong local support from farmers for the scheme. Ninty per cent of water entitlements are already pre-sold and there is interest in the remaining 10 per cent.
So far 72 subscribers have paid the two per cent deposit to sign-up to the scheme.
The scheme has the in-principle support of the State Government and Department of Water and Federal Government, as evidenced by the recent $1m in funding for further planning.
- Where else have schemes like this been delivered?
Tasmania has spent about $500 million on tranches one and two for a total of 15 schemes like the Southern Forests Irrigation Scheme.
They have been so well received that the Government has allocated a further $70 million of state funds to develop tranche three. These schemes have been accepted as fully sustainable environmentally and economically.
Tasmania is a great example of a place where irrigation schemes have generated a broader benefit for the whole community by improving overall economic activity through job creation, as well as opening up new opportunities for local people through the creation of new public open space.
- Which catchments is the water coming from?
The Scheme will draw water from the Record Brook catchment and the forested areas of the Upper and Middle Donnelly catchments.
The Department of Water and Environmental Regulation has confirmed it will not take water from the Manjimup Brook catchment nor from any current water licence holders.
- What consultation been undertaken?
The Southern Forests Irrigation Scheme is a community-led project to benefit local people.
As a result, the Co-operative has engaged in extensive consultation with the community.
Certain elements of the Scheme have been revised as a result of community feedback.
Consultation began in 2016, with a campaign calling for Letters of Intent from farmers. From there, we created a conceptual scheme design based on those responses.
At the end of 2017 the scheme moved into the sales phase.
The following summarises the communication activities carried out to date;
- Community Workshops/briefing sessions; 2015-2018, seven meetings held, between Manjimup, Pemberton and Yornup with more than 330 attendees in total across the sessions.
- Farmer group meetings; five sessions held in February and March 2016
- Letters/mailouts; seven communiques released to peak bodies, growers, real estate agents, local residents
- More than a dozen advertisements placed in local newspapers from 2015-2018
- The Co-operative has also has attended a number of community events including the Cherry Festival and the Warren Show to discuss the project with the community
- The Co-operative has also sought to educate the public through information shared in the local media, grower publications, grower groups and industry news sites and direct emails.
- Who is the Co-operative working with on the Scheme?
In 2015 a steering group for the project was formed with representation from the Shire of Manjimup, the South West Development Commission, local growers, the Department of Agriculture and Food WA, and the Department of Water.
The Steering Group’s terms of reference state it provides high level advice to the Department of Water on;
- The technical and operational viability of options for new dam sites;
- The technical and operational viability of identified infrastructure and reticulation options;
- Opportunities for complementary and synergistic water use including recreational use
- The economic and financial viability of identified options;
- Performance indicators and overseeing progress reports;
- Appropriate governance arrangements;
- Technical and operational advice regarding any required procedural, policy and legislative reforms
- Focusing on what is achievable in the timeframe.
- How much will the scheme cost?
The scheme is projected to cost $80 million.
- How much has been funded by the State Government?
$19 million has been committed by the State Government to date.
- How much has been funded by the Federal Government?
The Federal Government has committed up to $1 million to finalise the regulatory approvals required to progress the scheme to construction.
Following the completion of this work the State Government will apply to the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund for the remaining $40m.
- How will the $1m in federal funding be used?
The Federal Government has committed up to $1 million to finalise regulatory approvals required to progress the scheme to construction.
A project plan was submitted to the Federal Government in November 2018.
- What work has been done so far?
The process of seeking environmental approvals from the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation and the Environmental Protection Authority is underway.
In February 2019, the Co-operative completed flora surveys in the local area. Detailed vertebrate and short-range endemic fauna surveys will be undertaken soon.
Tenders are currently being assessed for the provision of an environmental impact assessment in accordance with Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) Act 1986 and to meet the standard of a public environmental review level of assessment.
Stage one geotechnical investigations have been completed.
Stage two geotechnical investigations and dam design (80%) will commence shortly.
These works will be co-managed by the Southern Forests Irrigation Co-operative and the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development.
- How much of the Scheme is being funded by local farmers?
To date, $11 million has been committed by growers who have signed up to the scheme, with a commitment of a further $54 million worth of on-farm works. These contributions demonstrate the importance of this game-changing project to the region, and the long-term investment in the future of farming in the region.
- What is involved in the construction of the scheme? What infrastructure needs to be built?
Once a contractor is appointed to deliver the project, they will develop the construction methodology.
The preferred option for the proposed scheme compromises a 15,000 ML dam situated on Record Brook.
It is intended surplus water in the Donnelly River would be pumped from the river to the dam through a 3km pipeline.
From the Record Brook dam, water will be pumped to a northern and southern header dams which will allow water to be gravity fed along corresponding pipelines to farms in the Manjimup-Pemberton district. The total length of pipelines is approximately 250km.
- How long will it take to build?
The Co-operative aims for construction to start within 12-18 months, and it will take about 24 months to complete.
- Will the Scheme create jobs in the local area?
The Scheme is a game-changing project that will deliver significant benefits across the community.
A recent report from the Department of Water (Socio-economic assessment of the proposed Southern Forests Irrigation Scheme, October 2018) noted the project would deliver a significant stimulus to the regional economy with agribusiness firms, contractors and local businesses benefiting from the increased spend in the regional economy.
Overall, the estimated economic impact includes an increase of up to 150 direct farm jobs and indirect employment of up to 75 positions.
- What about once construction is over?
The same report found there would be an increase in total direct salaries and wages of up to $9 million a year following full uptake of the water supply provided by the scheme.
The scheme also has the potential to provide improved drought security and so will have an additional social benefit related to the reduction in financial pressure placed on farmers during drought.
- What about other opportunities for the community?
This is a community-led project that has the potential to create new opportunities for recreation in the region.
In particular, the creation of a dam in the area opens up a range of options to the local community.
The Co-operative is discussing options for recreation including camping, fishing and tourism in and around the dam with the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions.
If you have ideas about activities or starting a community organisation that could use the dam for recreation, the Co-operative would love to hear from you.
- Have geotechnical works been carried out?
Stage one geotechnical works have been carried out, with stage two to commence shortly as part of the feasibility study.
As part of the SFIC’s commitment to environmental management all necessary surveys will be completed as required by government regulators.
- How do the environmental impacts vary between self-supply and scheme water?
Most farm dams are gully wall dams constructed on‐stream to intercept and store winter flow for use in the following irrigation season. The number of on-stream dams can also act as a barrier to freshwater fish and other aquatic species and affect the distribution and diversity of aquatic species.
The SFIS will pump water from the Donnelly River at a single location and store it off the main channel. The daily pump is based on the ecological sustainable yields developed by river ecologists from the DWER. The volumes and seasonal pattern of pumping will meet water demand of the scheme while maintaining river ecosystems.
The pump point is created by constructing small weirs to bank the water at a single location. These small weirs will be designed with fish ladders that allow fish to move upstream. The pumping strategy and infrastructure allows for better environmental outcomes because it allows the river to flow more naturally.
The use of pumps will also allow the seasonal timing and volume of pumping to be fine-tuned to better meet needs of the river environment, and to protect the inflow and hydrodynamics of the Donnelly River estuary